“The world lost a luminary recently. It’s name Hip Hop. And it drowned from too much a** and champagne” – the chilling intro to Crooked I’s “If You Ever Hear Me”.
This song addresses the current situation of hip-hop. We see a** shaking in videos, expensive lifestyles of champagne and high-end alcohol brands, we see expensive cars and in some cases we see the outright brandishing of weapons and violence. To a certain extent, Lil Boosie possibly didn’t think that his 2000 song titled “Do The Ratchet” would spark a worldwide trend amongst hip-hop artists and fans alike. Ratchet is now the ‘in’ thing and all the conscious, underground, or anything that doesn’t display an abundance of reckless behaviour in their lyrics is labelled struggling rappers.
The new kids on the block have gone viral and your neighbour is now involuntarily reciting “Harlem Shake” lyrics as a direct reflection to the replays coming from your sound system. The leaders of this movement are known as ‘gawds’; idolised by many, and in a cult-like fashion, a lot of the members of the ‘gangs’ are re-enacting the lyrics in real life. Real n****as.
Ratchet music is running rampant on all media platforms. “Pop That” by Bad Boys Records’ artist French Montana topped the charts everywhere. This song encompasses an abundance of the ingredients that make up ratchet hip-hop; cursing, degrading of women and a thumping beat to match the rhythmical posterior shakes. If you look at the video, aside of the rappers, the focus is on the scantily clad ladies. Needless to say that sex sells, but is that what we deem the foundation of hip-hop? Has lyricism taken a backseat to the new chauffeur of ratchet? Are visuals of a lady dressed in a bikini, with champagne dripping all over her body as she sits backseat of an expensive ride the new standard of a rapper’s success?
The golden era- 90s hip-hop, shies away from the current trend. Bars, beats and message are carefully etched into every record. Skill is judged by the use of the language and the vivid imagery it paints. The rappers thrive on touching the hearts of the listener. The route was ear to heart to memories in the mind; story-telling in its simplest form. It is undoubtedly evident when we find ourselves reminiscing about how a certain rapper’s flow and deliverance is impeccable. We quote their verses with nostalgia and pride. We even go as far as declaring the fallen or passed on rappers as the best there ever was. Will we say the same about the rapper who rhymes with synonyms of a female genitalia?
All art forms evolve but can we say hip-hop has evolved for the better? Are we in a better space of reaching millions? If we change lives, is it in the most positive form? Chris Rock once joked about defending hip-hop, today his words echo painfully and I can’t say I can defend the current crop of the genre. There are a few who show us a glimmer of hope, and at the same time there’s the flood blinding us with their latest Jacob The Jeweller’s purchase. We’re instagramming ourselves in a dozen gold chains and ladies in thongs as achievements. The world is laughing at us and we refer to them as haters.
The sad reality is that hip-hop is perpetuating an image it doesn’t realise is detrimental to the same ‘gawds’ who preach it. By branding AK-47′s on YouTube the next teen to do so is en route to a criminal record in an attempt to make the Forbes list someday. The NWA era promoted fighting the power and going against the grain of rules that segregates people. The new era promotes the same in a different context. Sex, drugs, violence are the factors used in propelling a lifestyle that is reckless, dangerous, and its occupants’ finish line is most likely to end in a coffin or behind bars.
We went from fighting injustice to abusing the rights we got from dying from the injustices suffered. We went from manipulating the language to delivering heartfelt messages to manipulating young minds and pushing the ratchet images we promote. Yes, you can rap, but what is your talent doing to enrich the next person’s life? If all you inadvertently stand for is drugs and alcohol abuse, violence, philandering and degrading women, you are a disgrace to what hip-hop once stood for.
In hip-hop it has become a norm for rappers to refer to ladies as ‘B***hes and h**s’. The scary analogy of this phenom is that ladies are taking these sordid titles and see good in them. Rotten fish from a bin put in a vase is not a goldfish. Ladies have the ambition of being a video vixen. They take pride in being the lady Nelly chooses give the “Tip Drill” treatment. Ladies have subjected themselves to being objects of lust and have acquired every scandalous title attached to it. How could hip-hop have desecrated the beautiful image of a woman and diminished the female form to ratchet?
I confess, in a club on a loud sound system I lose my mind to the beat of Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance”; that’s also because I don’t get to hear lyrics like “She got friends, bring three. I got drugs, I got drinks”. Who can forget the thumping Childish Major produced “U.O.E.N.O” by Rocko, Rick Ross and Future where Ross said the now infamous date rape line, “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”. Also locally, SAMA-winner AKA has the lyrics of his latest hit “Kontrol” censored on the video where he says, “I’m drinking and driving thinking about money and power”. The lyrics are reflection of the artist, the culture and most importantly the society they live in. Empowering bad perceptions with your lyrics not only taints the artist’s image but also the hip-hop culture which is home and income for many.
We can pinpoint the rotten apples but the genre as a whole needs standards. We need to stamp out whatever is deemed as wrong and foul. We need to speak up about the ratchet image that’s shown to the world. Hip-hop used to show where we from but I’m scared of where it’s showing where we’re going. The music is a vicarious view of society and if we are proud of being ratchet – are we saying that we are proud of what our society is seen as?
Mos Def said, “We are Hip Hop, me, you, everybody, we are Hip Hop / So, Hip Hop is goin’ where we goin’ / So, the next time you ask yourself where Hip Hop is goin’ / Ask yourself where am I goin’? How am I doin’?”
I ask you this question… where are you going with hip-hop?
Written By: Siphiwe Zwane (@SDotJR_)